Why Be Moral?
"I suppose there are two views about everything," said Mark.
"Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one." C.S. Lewis1
It has been said that
* . one of the chief goals of ethics is to see if rational grounds can be given in support of any moral judgments, standards, or rules, and if so, to specify what those ground are.2
After having sampled "a dozen views" about morality, this writer arrived at what she believes to be "the one answer." It is based on the premise that man is a moral being, because he is created by the moral God of the Bible in that God's image. What makes man man, as distinct from animals, is that man is so constituted that he must live by a moral system essentially like the Ten Commandments. The moral rules of most if not all societies bear this out, as they are largely alike.3 This alikeness points to a common origin of morality, or rather, a common origin is its most plausible explanation.
Anthropology seems to concur in the view that religion lies near the root of morality.'
If we ask about the origin of society's values, we find a long and gradual development of traditions and customs which have given stability to the society's way of life, and whose obscure beginnings lie in ritual magic, taboos, tribal ceremonies, and religious worship the origin of a set of values seems to have little or nothing to do with rational, controlled thought. Neither individuals nor societies originally acquire their moral beliefs by means of logical reasoning or through the use of an objective method for gaining knowledge.4
In view of the above, the thesis that all moral systems descend in more or less pure form from the primeval moral law written by virtue of supernatural creation within the nature of man by his Creator, the Triune God of the Bible, is offered as rational grounds of this writer's conviction that the question, "Why be moral?" must be answered, "Not to be moral is to die as man, and then to die in due course as a sub-human monstrosity."
Man's creation in God his Creator's image is thus this writer's starting point. I choose it over against the miscellaneous arbitrary starting points of philosophies pretending to examine values reflectively, yet avoiding reflection upon the true origin of values. It is my starting point because any starting point arbitrarily set somewhere within human nature, society, or man's environment in a naturalistic, immanentistic manner cannot lead to conclusions taking all factors of human nature, society, or man's environment into account. One needs as it were a "view from above," both to avoid subjectivity by being oneself part of what one attempts to evaluate, and to see the whole, rather than parts arbitrarily singled out for analysis without first having seen them integrated, and hence unable to fit them together pursuant to analysis. (And suppose analysis itself alters the original condition?) To begin with man's creation by God, i.e. beginning with God Himself as the standard and model of man, is to fulfill this need for a transcendent starting point, with a "view from above," (not from within).
Man's creation in God his Creator's image is chosen as a starting point also because man's identity is thereby defined. Man is rescued thereby from being made a means to the ends of his fellow men. He is rescued thereby from assuming absolute authority over them, because he is responsible to his Creator. He is rescued thereby from existential alienation, for he is like His Creator and related to Him. He is endowed with dignity, the awesome dignity of "being like God." Because he is a created being whose creation was his Creator's choice, he, too, can choose, being his Creator's image. Note that if man absurdly, perversely chooses to "be like God" by "not being like God," namely, by not living by the moral law by which he is created to live, he chooses to die, logically and inevitably, because in so doing he chooses not to be a man, by definition. For man, by definition, is that creature which is God's image. If he is no longer God's image, he no longer is he has lost his identity, his self
Man's creation in God his Creator's image is chosen as a starting point, further, because to begin with God in this manner is to be relieved of the necessity for man acquiring, by himself, true knowledge, a prerequisite for valid normative ethics (see Section II). With God above and behind man, man receives the true knowledge he needs to have as a creature exercising dominion under God
To start with the creation of man in God's image, in accordance with the Bible, gives us one further and tremendous advantage. It is that the God ofthe Bible is One God in Three Persons. In God Himself we are offered our model for "more than one" living "as one." Therefore men, being "more than one" are to live "as one." Because God is not "alone," "it is not good that man should be alone," and "a helpmeet" is provided for him out of his own body.~ God, the Triune God, "is love."6 So, too, mankind is to be one in love. No other religious model offers us this "more-than-one-one" God Who so strikingly parallels our universal human condition of having to coexist with and depend upon our fellow men. The supreme, absolute and general moral principle summed up by Jesus Christ (Perfect God and Perfect Man in one person) follows from this starting point:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt lovethy neighbor as thyself, On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.7
John Stuart Mill, the father of modern Utilitarianism, is sometimes and, I believe with pleasure. justlyfaulted for his vagueness in defining the concepts "happiness" and "desirable," which are vital to his philosophy.8 This writer would avoid a master's shortcoming by defining the term "moral" as follows: To be moral is to live according to the belief that all men everywhere and at all times ought to act according to certain universal rules of conduct or normative ethics, independent of their own interest or inclination. To be moral agents, we must be able: (1) to differentiate between "good" and "evil"; (2) to know the effects of our actions upon ourselves and/or other human beings: (3) to have relevant free will. Points (1) and (2) require true knowledge of ourselves, of our fellow men, and of our environment, as well as of past history and probable future events and consequences of present events.
Beliefs amoral by the above definitions are, for example: (1) cultural relativism, i.e., "what is right is right only within and for a particular culture;" (2) historical relativism, i.e. "what is right is right only within and for a particular period of history;" (3) racist or elitist philosophies with "moral" rules not valid for all men equally; (4) ethical egoism including Jean-Paul Sartre's "individual self-authentication, ""self-actualization" procedures hawked as ethics by "Third Force" psychologists, or the "objectivism" of Ayn Rand.
Also amoral would be any "ethics" wiping out all differentiation between "good" and "evil," such as the Marquis de Sade's Bedroom Philosophy ("La Philosophie dans le Boudoir") which proceeds from the starting point: "What is, is right."9
Of course fatalistic, pantheistic or deterministic ethics must be amoral because they must deny relevant free will. They view the universe as selfcontained and purely materialistic. They deny the existence of anyone or anything apart from or beyond this self-contained material universe. Hence man is not a free moral agent. He is "nothing-but" the product of genetic inheritance and environmental influences evolved over eons of time. Some rearguard debates are carried on over the relative importance of genetic inheritance versus environment between biological and environmental reductionists in the field of psychology,'0 but both alike must disallow free will except as an illusion based on ignorance. (The tenacity with which some atheist believers in evolution cling to belief in "relevant free will" based on their "moral intuition" is a paradoxic testimony to the power of even rejected, unconsciously held, vestigial Christian teaching. For on their own evolutionist, naturalist-determinist presuppositions belief in relevant free will is wishful, irrational thinking rightly despised by consistent atheist evolutionists such as Skinner-allied behaviorists.) Psychological egoism gives us an example of determinist reduction of ethics to absurdity by proclaiming, "Man cannot act otherwise than selfishly."
Morality and "Given" Human Nature
The last paragraph should have alerted you to the following possibility. Suppose the world view of a self-contained, purely materalislic, determinist, evolving universe, with man "nothing-but" genes plus environment minus free will is true? Had we not better first of all ascertain the facts about the universe, and especially about man's nature? For it would be folly to devise moral rules so much at variance with man's nature that man could not obey them if he wanted to. Nor can we give him any moral rules at all if he cannot act otherwise than he is made by nature. In either case, the question, "Why be moral?" is nonsense, for to be moral is impossible.
It is therefore not surprising that we find treatises on ethics honey-combed with references to human nature. John Stuart Miii claims that man is by nature sympathetic to his fellow men.11 Aldous Huxley's "Savage" in Brave New World bases his opposition to hedonism upon man's nature: "What you need . is something with tears for a change . Isn't there something in living dangerously?" The Controller agrees: "There's a great deal in it that's why we've made the (Violent Passion Surrogate) treatments compulsory."12 We find the following pessimistic gem among the sayings of Aristotle's contemporary Isocrates:
For if we are willing to survey human nature as a whole, we shall find that the majority of men do not take pleasure in the food that is the most wholesome, nor in the pursuits that are the most honourable, nor in the actions that are the noblest, nor in the creatures that are the most useful, but that they have tastes which are in every way contrary to their best interests. , How, then, can one advise or teach or say anything of profit and yet please such people?. they so shun the verities of life that they do not even know their own interests -----
Suppose it is factually false that moral rules may be made equally binding for all men? David Hume tells us in his Treatise of Human Natur
every particular person's pleasure and interest being different it is impossible men could ever agree in their sentiments and judgements, unless they chose some common point of view from which they might survey their object, and which might cause it to appear the same to all of them 14 (emphasis added)
Hume postulates individual differentiation between men by nature. Now suppose moral rules cannot be made equally binding for all men because men are naturally divided by class or category. This is the claim of Nietzche's "hero-morality," built upon a supposed natural division of men into "masters" and "herd":
Moral systems must be compelled first of all to bow before the gradations of rank; their presumption must be driven home to their conscience until theythoroughly understand at last that it isimmoral to say that "what is right for one is proper for another."15 (emphasis in original,
Nietzsche further postulates as man's innate driving force his "will to power":
What is good? All that enhances the feeling of power, the Will to Power, and power itself in man . The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our humanity 16
If Nietiche and other believers in men's naturally being unequal are right - then what we called moral at the outset of this paper is amoral, and to ask "Why be moral?" elicits the answer, "Why indeed!"
Morality and "Malleable" Human Nature
Is your head swimming with such conflicting claims about "given" human nature and its relevance for moral systems? Let me confound you further with the concurrent claim by psychologists and philosophers alike that human nature is not "given" but "malleable" by education, brainwashing, environmental change, or genetic engineering.
John Stuart Mill, while postulating that men by nature desire their own happiness, yet emphasizes the need for educating men especially in their desire for the intrinsically "nobler" or "higher" pleasures:
Capacity forthe nobler feelings is in most natures a very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance; and in the majority of young persons it speedily dies away if the occupations to which their position in life has devoted them, and the society into which it has thrown them, are not favorable to keeping that higher capacity in exercise.17
Not only is education a must in Mill's scheme to cultivate men's "nobler" feelings; it is a must to uphold utilitarianism itself:
education and opinion, which have so vast a power over human character, should souse that power as to establish in the mind of every individual an indissoluble association between his own happiness and the good of the whole.'8 (emphasis added)
According to Mill, then, education and opinion must bridge the gap between mere individual ethical egoism and utilitarianism standing for "the greatest good for the greatest number." With tongue in cheek, this writer cannot resist quoting here, as a logical extension and implementation of Mill's statement, the favorite Nazi slogan prominently displayed in the classrooms of her youth in the Germany of the Thirties: "You are nothing, your people (nation) is everything." (Du bist nichts, dein Volk is alles.)
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World leads to untrammeled hedonism through environmental change and genetic engineering, i.e. the breeding of a subnormal servant class content with dull or unpleasant work, with a bit of brainwashing (sleep conditioning and electroshock) thrown in. The environmental change is a technology so highly developed that "there isn't any need for a civilized man to bear anything that's seriously unpleasant"19, especially with the backstop of "Christianity without tears. . (the drug)soma."20 In such a system, who needs to be "moral," that is, to act independent of his own interest or inclination?
Another version of human malleability is through social change, especially by elimination of privateenterprise capitalism. We find a classical statement of this kind in Edward Bellamy's famous socialist utopia Looking Backward'
If you would see men again the beasts of prey they seemed in the nineteenth century, all you have to do is to restore the old social and industrial system, which taught them to view their natural prey in their fellow-men and find their gain in the loss of others.21
Half a century later, another utopia, George Orwell's 1984, paints the nightmare world of "Ingsoc" (English Socialism), with Nietzschean will to power running rampant, and with National (Nazi) and International (Communist) socialism as its real-life models.22
Morality and "The Abolition ot Man"
This postulated natural malleability of man as a basis for morality raises the question whether to be "moral" by outside conditioning has any meaning at all. This question is the subject of Anthony Burgess's gripping novel A Clockwork Orange. Here Alex, a vicious young hoodlum, undergoes the "Ludovico Treatment" to be "transformed out of all recognition"23 to become.......your true Christian, . . . ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the very heart at the thought even of killing a fly."24 The prison chaplain warns: "The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man. "25 (emphasis added) The conditioning does not last. Alex reverts from being a conditioned non-violent "clockwork orange" to chosen viciousness.
Burgess contends, of course, that relevant tree will is what makes man man, and that to annihilate it even to produce a model citizen is to annihilate man. The conditioning's failure is the hope of man's survival in his identity as a moral agent, for which the price exacted by the suffering caused by those choosing immoral or amoral behavior is not too high. (The God of the Bible agrees; it costs Him the humiliation and crucifixion of His only begotten Son.)
John Stuart Mill does not entirely disagree:
Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast's pleasures . . . It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.26
Morality and Knowledge
Not only knowledge about the nature of man and the universe, but also knowledge about mankind's past experience (history) is required to "be moral." We can do no better than quote John Stuart Mill:
there has been ample time, namely the whole past duration of the human species (for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general happiness). During all that time mankind have been learning by experience the tendencies of actions; on which experience al/the prudence as well as al/the moratty of life are dependen~27 (emphasis added)
But may we rely on recorded history? Is it not rewritten time and again by revisionists of this or that school? Are not corrections of the received record made necessary repeatedly due to discovery of previously undiscovered sources? Can we ever truly know what really happened in the past?
With nothing but tenuous and conflicting claims about empirical facts as our guides, how is it possible for us to arrive at rational grounds in support of any moral judgments, standards or rules, one of the chief goals of ethics(see quote 2, page 1)? Is not analytical ethics itself vitiated thereby unless, of course, we never mean to do anything in the first place but to strive about subjective hypotheses and opinions for the sake of intellectual titillation, and abandon all attempts to establish normative ethics.
Hold on, cries the disciple of Auguste Comte's Logical Positivism. The social sciences from which you hope to receive true knowledge are themselves built upon the shifting sands of theories rather than the exact standards of weights and measurements undergirding the natural sciences. Let us turn to the natural sciences for validation of our thoughts. Let us explain human life, human behavior and by inference, human morality in material and physiological terms; the reform of society is then nothing but a scientific problem.
Alas, we are in no way extricated from our precarious epistemological situation; for man's "knowledge" acquired through the natural sciences suffers from the same defects as his "knowledge" acquired through the social sciences. The problems are: (1) bias in the very way knowledge is sought after; (2) fragmentation of knowledge because our methodology in acquiring it is analytic, not holistic. We do well to absorb the implications of the following statement by lmre Lakatos, formerly professor of logic at the University of London, and now of the London School of Economics:
There are and can be no sensations unimpregnated by expectations and therefore there is no natural (i.e., psychological) demarcation between observational and theoretical propositions The truth value of the "observational" propositions cannot be indubitably decided: no factual proposition can ever be proved from an experiment. Propositions can only be derived from other propositions, they cannot be derived from facts: one cannot prove statements from experiences.28 (emphasis and parenthesis in original)
Because knowledge acquired by science comes to us in fragmented bits and pieces, based on the "scientific method" of analysis and abstraction, it can afford us "not reality but only a view." What we need is a "new natural philosophy" or "regenerate science" which, "when it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. "30 (emphasis added)
Suppose we could overcome all these difficulties and had acquired sufficient and reliable knowledge about the nature of man and the universe. Can we now proceed to formulate ethical norms, substantiating them by the rational grounds of empirical evidences? Can we say: "Why be moral? Because the facts are such and such?"
My poor naturalist materialist friends we cannot. There is an insurmountable logical hurdle between us and such an answer: Hume's Gap. It lies between observational data and ethical commands. It has never been bridged by a secular philosopher. Let David Hume, that invaluable sceptic, explain it:
In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author . . . makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions is and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, `tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given . . how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention wou'd subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv'd by reason.31 (emphasis in original)
One cannot move directly back and forth between propositions of fact and ethical commands, because "this is" cannot, even if true, lead directly to "therefore you have a moral duty to do that." The desired purpose and goal of the moral action demanded must first be defined, and then be accepted as desirable, by those to whom the moral command is issued. The omission of this essential intermediate step, incidentally, is the reason why John Stuart Mill's definition of "happiness" and "desirable" is faulty: certain kinds of "happiness" may be "desired," yet not "desirable," and vice versa. (The "desirable" and the "desired" are not identical, Mill to the contrary notwithstanding.)
Having recovered from the shock produced by Hume's Gap itself, let us ponder its corollary already quoted above, namely, "that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, NOR IS PERCEIVED BY REASON."32 (emphasis added) Logic confirms here what anthropology told us earlier, namely, that "neither individuals nor societies originally acquire their moral beliefs by means of logical reasoning or through the use of an objective method for gaining knowledge." (see footnote 4)
Is it mere superstition, then, to seek for the source, the origin of "intuition," "feeling" or "thirst" within us for a "distinction of vice and virtue," between "good" and "evil," in a supernatural Creator, and "not merely in the relations of objects?" Is not faith in "objective science" the real superstition?
Summary and Conclusion
In this necessarily limited discussion this writer has concentrated upon the problems of (1) an immanentistic starting point; (2) human nature viewed as a determinist "given" and hence rendering volitional morality absurd; (3) human nature viewed as "malleable" from without, and hence also rendering morality absurd and threatening man's identity as man; (4) the impossibility of acquiring true knowledge of immanentist presuppositions; (5) the logical impossibility of proceeding from an "is" to an "ought" (Hume's Gap).
It is now time to arrive at a conclusion. As usual, our conclusion will depend on our starting point, If we start with the determinist-evolutionist view of the universe as self-contained and "nothing-but" matter in motion, and man as "nothing-but" a phenomenon therein then by all means let us cast aside absolute morality as a mirage, gone with the historical periods where it arose. Of course we feel at home with some form of Hegelian dialectic materialistic relativism, and the more or less dictatorial conduct of mankind's affairs by some sort of "elite" Mill's "beings of higher faculties" or "instructed persons"33, Huxley's trained technocrats, Orwell's Inner Party, Plato's oligarchy of philosophers, or what have you.
Or else we can start and conclude with the Biblical creation of man in the image of the Triune God his Creator, Provider and Saviour/Redeemer, in which view the question, "Why be moral?" is equivalent to the question, "Why live?" with total meaning for each human being, you, me, each and every moment of our lives, a meaning which not even death can destroy. For if man is created in the image of the ever-living God of the Bible then he, too, has the potential of eternal life.
The choice is yours.
To avoid any possible misunderstanding, I should make it clear that I originally received my starting point, as Hume and anthropology would rightly surmise, neither by means of logical reasoning, nor through the use of an objective method for gaining knowledge (which latter anyhow does not exist see Lakatos quote).
Rather. in a situation of emotional and intellectual bankruptcy (it is true that I had sampled "a dozen views"), ironically amidst career and material prosperity utilitarians to a man would have called "desirable," I called upon the God of the Bible to make Himself known to me if He existed not as a philosophical or religious concept (which could not have heard my call), but as a PERSON. He did.
While I stand by the preceding essay, and in particular by every word of Section I, I must add this postscript so as not to suppress the most important, vital truth about God that He is a PERSON, love in person, creatorhood in person, the moral law in person, justice and mercy in person, joy and peace in person. Creation and the Bible reveal Him to the senses and the mind; Jesus Christ, God Incarnate as a human Person, also reveals Himself to us person to person. As I must meet you yourself in person and walk and talk with you (and not merely about you) if I would truly know you so you and I must meet God Himself, in person, and walk and talk with Him (and not merely about Him) if we would truly know Him. He is not proud; He is waiting and willing that we should.
1 CS Lewis, That Hideous Strength. Macmillan, New York, N.Y. 1965, Tenth Printing 1971, p.72.
2 Paul W. Taylor, Principles of Ethics: An Introduction, Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc., Encino, CA 1975, p.26.
3 CS. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. Macmillan, New york, N.Y. 1965, Fourteenth Printing 1976, pp.95-121.
4 Taylor, op. cIt. p.15.
5 The Bible: Genesis 1:27, 2:18.
6 The Bible: I John 4:8, 16.
7 The Bible: Matthew 22:37-40.
8 Richard Norman, Reasons for Action. Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1971, p. 39-40 also Dorothy Mitchell: Mill's Theory of Value, in Joel Feinberg and Henry West, editors; Moral Philosophy Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc., Encino. CA ~977, p.777.
9 cf, R.J Rushdoony The Politics of Pornography Arlington House, New Rochelle, N.Y., 1975.
10 Paul D. Ackerman, "Considerations Regarding a Creation Model for Experimental Psychology." Creation Social Science and Humanities Quarterly, 1979, Ilol. 1(3), p.5.
11 Feinberg and West, op. cit. p.123.
12 ibid. p.169.
13 Joseph A. Gittler, Social Thought Among the Early Greeks. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1941, p.126.
14 Quoted in Richard Norman, op. cit.. p.39.
15 Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy. Simon & Schuster, New York, N.Y., 1961, Twelfth Paperback Printing, p.317.
16 Feinberg & West, op. cit.. p.193
17 Ibid, p. 113.
18 Ibid, p.116.
19 Ibid. p. 168.
20 Ibid. p.169.
21 Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward Random House, The Modern Library, New York, N.Y. 1942, p.225.
22 George Orwell, 1984.
23 Anthony Burgess,A Clockwork Orange. W.W. Norton &Co., New York, N.Y. 1963, p.92.
24 Ibid, p.129
25 Ibid, p.83.
28 Feinberg & West. op. cit.. pp.112-113.
27 Ibid, p.119.
28 lmre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, editors Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge University Press, 1970, pp.74,99.
29 Ibid, p.92.
30 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, pp.89-90.
31 David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature. Book Ill, Part I, Section I.
33 Feinberg & West, op. cit., p.112.
Ackerman, Paul D., "Considerations Regarding a Creation Model for Experimental Psychology." Creation Social Science and Humanities Quarterly, 1979, Vol.1 (3), p.5.
Bellamy, Edward, LookingBack ward New York: Random House, The Modern Library, 1942.
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1963.
Durant, Will, The Story of Philosophy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961.
Feinberg, Joel, and West, Henry, ed., Moral Philosophy. Encino, CA: Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc., 1977
Gittler, Joseph A., Social Thought Among the Early Greeks. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1941.
Hume, David, A Treatise on Human Nature.
Lakatos, lmre, and Musgrave, Alan, ed., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge University Press, 1970.
Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man. New York: Macmillan, 1965, Fourteenth Printing 1976.
Lewis, C.S. That Hideous Strength. New York: Macmillan, 1965, Tenth Printing 1971.
Norman, Richard, Reasons for Action. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971.
Orwell, George, 1984.
Rushdoony, R.J., The Politics of Pornography. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House 1975.
Taylor, Paul W., Principles of Ethics: An Introduction. Encino, CA: Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc., 1975.